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The Jewish King Lear
But this is NOT Shakespeare's King Lear. Although Gordin's plot heavily draws upon the material of Lear, he transposes the Bard's story to Lithuania and has it begin at a Purim feast given by Dovidl Moysheles (Joel Leffert). In this sacred atmosphere, we witness Dovidl as he divides his empire among his three daughters: the eldest daughter Etele (Deanna Henson), the second daughter Gitele (Katie Hahn), and the third daughter Taybele (Olivia Killingsworth).
Taybele, who has an independent streak in her personality, tells her father at the feast that she intends to study medicine in St. Petersburg. This, of course, infuriates Dovidl since Taybele is his "favorite" daughter and wants her close by him in his old age. But Taybele firmly defends her decision and prophetically tells her father that he will become "the Jewish King Lear."
'= I'll let you connect the dots of this late 19th century Lear story for yourself. But Gordin's plot, much like Shakespeare's Lear, teases out the themes of old age and family tensions to splendid effect.
To do justice to this classic Yiddish play requires the talents of a cast and creative team who understand and have a feeling for Jewish culture. Fortunately, Chemaly has assembled an acting ensemble who seem at home in a Jewish universe and can pronounce the Yiddish words trippingly off the tongue.
The production, aptly designed by Mario Alonso, and incisively directed by Ed Chemaly, is well-cast throughout and convincingly acted. It may be argued that several of the actors, Joel Leffert and Jeremy Lawrence particularly, strain their acting muscles too much. But I think their parts as Dovidl and Trytel (the Lear and Kent figures) warrant some over-the-top moments, and the play itself lends itself to grand gestures.
That said, I must admit to enjoying The Jewish King Lear. For although I'm unfamiliar with other English translations of Gordin's play, Ruth Gay's translation seems modern and not the least bit precious. It has poetic feeling, humor, sharp intelligence and vigor. Given that the work was written over a century ago, it still seems pertinent today with women still struggling to have their voices heard via the #MeToo movement and other social-consciousness raising campaigns.
Interestingly, Gordin wrote another cross-cultural adaptation of Lear in 1898 for the American Yiddish Theatre: The Jewish Queen Lear, aka as Mirele Efros. In that play, a mother encounters troubles with her entire family and is reconciled with them at a bar mitzvah. Significantly, both of Gordin's adaptations emphasize the value of tradition.
No question Shakespeare travels well around the globe and finds a home in any culture. This is a rarely produced one so catch it now—or catch it never.
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The Jewish King Lear by Jacob Gordin
Based on William Shakespeare’s King Lear
Directed by Ed Chemaly
Cast: Kelly D. Cooper (Avrom Harif), Thomas Daniels (Reveler), Katie Hahn (Gitele), Deanna Henson (Etele), Tyler Kent (Her Yaffe), Olivia Killingsworth (Taybele), Clara Kundin (Reveler), Jeremy Lawrence (Trytel), Joel G. Leffert (Dovidl), Amanda Miryem-Khaye Seigel (Reveler), Tori Sicklick (Reveler), Jack Sochet (Moyshe Hasid), Diane Tyler (Khane Leah).
Sets: Mario Alonso
Costumes: Sidney Fortner
Lighting: Scott Andres Cally
Fight Director: Joel Leffert
Stage Manager: Traci Bargen
At the Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 East 4th Street, East Village. Tickets: $30.99. Phone (212) 995-8410 or online at www.metropolitanplayhouse.org
From 4/27/18; closing 5/27/18.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 7:30pm; Wednesday & Sunday @ 3pm.
Running time: 2 hours: 40 minutes with one intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 5/06/18
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